To fight colds and flus, one NSAID will do

November 19, 2014

TO FIGHT COLDS AND FLUS, ONE NSAID WILL DO: Medical professionals encourage the public to read labels and avoid doubling-up on NSAIDs
EUGENE, OR — As the calendar page has turned to November, the typical American is making more frequent trips to the medicine cabinet. The greatest influencer of this trend is the ongoing cold and flu season.

According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Americans catch one billion colds per year, and the market research firm IRI estimates that seven-in-ten people use over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat their symptoms.

When looking for relief of cold and flu symptoms, it is important to know what you are taking to maximize the relief needed but doing so in the safest way.

Many of the most common OTC medications used to treat the aches and pains of colds and flus are grouped as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

NSAIDs – which include the groups of drugs ibuprofen and naproxen – work by minimizing inflammation, pain and fever.

Taken alone, NSAIDs should be taken in the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time required for symptom relief. However, serious side effects can occur when NSAIDs are taken at too high a dose, for too long, or in combination with another NSAID. This may affect one’s kidney, heart and digestive system.

“Even the knowledgeable consumer has to take care with OTC medications,” said Byron Cryer, M.D., associate dean at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “For example, most people don’t realize that Alka-Seltzer, or effervescent aspirin, contains an NSAID.”

Additionally, it’s important to know that NSAIDs come as OTCs but also as Rx medications. A person who is on long-standing medication for a chronic condition, such as osteoarthritis, should speak to a doctor or pharmacist before taking an OTC NSAID.

“Patients who are already on prescription NSAIDs should be the most vigilant about OTC medication labels so they don’t unknowingly double up on NSAIDs,” Cryer said. “To avoid any unwanted side effects from over usage of NSAIDs, read the label or check with a healthcare professional or pharmacist.”

According to an article from the American Journal of Managed Care (Nov. 19, 2013), a systematic review of 17 prospective observational studies found that 11% of drug-related hospital admissions could be attributed to NSAIDs.

It may be overwhelming to consider the pharmacological implications of all the medications that one may be inclined to take during the cold and flu season, but this is an ideal conversation for a health care provider. Remember, however, to provide detailed information on medication usage, including OTCs, when giving medical history.

Of course it is always important for one read medication labels and be aware of what one is taking.

“Patients will undoubtedly require various supportive care approaches, like OTC cold and flu medications that may contain NSAIDs,” said Jennifer Wagner, LPN, and Executive Director of the Western Pain Society. “Patients should not avoid these medications, they just need to know what they are taking to maximize their benefits and minimize risk. They should speak to their doctor or the pharmacist if they have any question.”

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ABOUT: The Alliance for Rational Use of NSAIDs is a public health coalition dedicated to the safe and appropriated use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not replace the care of your health care provider.
Talk to your health care provider before you stop taking or change your medication.